Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Ten Visual Effects Movies Made It to Oscar Shortlist, More Got Robbed

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood December 5, 2013 at 6:37PM

Here's why the ten visual effects Oscar frontrunners landed on the Shortlist. Who will make the final five? Only the January 9 bakeoff will tell.
"World War Z"

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has shortlisted 10 movies for VFX Oscar consideration for the 86th Academy Awards, led by Alfonso Cuaron's blockbuster "Gravity" and "The Desolation of Smaug," the second in Peter Jackson's popular "Hobbit" trilogy. 

Joining them are Guillermo del Toro's robot mash-up, "Pacific Rim," J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" sequel, "Into Darkness," and three dystopian adventures: "Elysium," "World War Z," and "Oblivion." There was also room for two Marvel superhero stalwarts: "Iron Man 3" and "Thor: The Dark World."

The biggest surprise inclusion? "The Lone Ranger" flop that nonetheless featured two spectacular train fights. But left out of the running were Ron Howard's low-budget "Rush," which seamlessly integrated archival footage with riveting new racing action (not enough CG?); the under-performing "Ender's Game" (whose more conventional zero-gravity paled in comparison to "Gravity's" innovative approach); Zack Snyder's Supeman reboot, "Man of Steel" (whose powerful fights may have worn out their welcome); and Sam Raimi's "Oz the Great and Powerful" (a mixed bag of tricks?).

In terms of VFX studio tallies, Industrial Light & Magic scored three entries with "Pacific Rim," "Into Darkness," and "The Lone Ranger" (plus Scott Farrar was loaned out to fix "World War Z" in post); Framestore did both "Gravity" and "Iron Man 3" (along with conceptualizing "World War Z" and "Thor"); Weta Digital created "Smaug" and assisted on "Iron Man 3"; MPC and Cinesite were mainstays on "World War Z" (MPC also worked on "The Lone Ranger"); Image Engine handled most of "Elysium"; Digital Domain (which collaborated on "Iron Man 3") shared "Oblivion" with Pixomondo; Double Negative was the lead on "Thor"; and Method Studios assisted on "Elysium, "Thor," and "Iron Man 3."

While "Gravity" is the obvious frontrunner for its game-changing tech and the advantage of being a Best Picture contender, "Smaug" has the menacing CG dragon in its favor (voiced by the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch). I would also bet on "Pacific Rim," (which delivers the thrilling robot porn), "Elysium" (an exquisite balance between faux utopia and apocalyptic grunge), and "World War Z" (the zombie swarms are uniquely scary).

Then again, who knows? Maybe "Oblivion" sneaks in for its elegant CG.

The Visual Effects branch, meanwhile, will meet on Jan. 9 at the Academy to narrow the nominees to five for the annual "bakeoff."

Here's the complete list:



"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"

"Iron Man 3"

"The Lone Ranger"


"Star Trek Into Darkness"

"Thor: The Dark World"

"Pacific Rim"

"World War Z"

This article is related to: Visual Effects Society, Best Visual Effects, VFX, Awards, Awards, Awards Season Roundup, Immersed In Movies

E-Mail Updates

Festivals on TOH

Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.